I arrived at the ashram and went through the necessary formalities. I was shown to my room where I was to sleep on a top bunk in a dorm that slept approximately 15 men. After spending the last month in the bowels of a shaky cruise ship in a coffin-sized bed, this was a luxury.
With our 9pm bedtime and the no drugs, alcohol, coffee, television, or radio policy this was a far cry from the world of the musician that I had just been immersed in. Being that I was seeking clarity, I appreciated those rules. I wanted to know who I was without external stimuli, without acculturation. It would take great clarity and insight to make these discoveries. Prior to this, I would have a recurring vision of being stranded alone on a remote desert island. I wondered how I would act in a situation like this where there was no accommodating other people or without living up to the perceived expectations of others. I wondered if I could ever truly know myself without that kind of disconnect from everything I knew.
A few things happened instantly. First, I realized that I was surrounded by people who were somehow different than anyone I had met before. Second, I felt like every word, action, and thought were under a microscope. This made me feel incredibly self-conscious and uncomfortable. I had become accustomed to a layer of impersonal-ness in my interaction which let me hide and let me get away with being half present. This place was different. People seemed to look through me. I felt exposed. Much later I would come to appreciate this level of self-awareness as a valuable tool for making changes in oneself.
Awareness itself became a focal point for me. It’s embarrassing for me to say this now but at that time I would spend 90 minutes staring at and “putting my awareness” in my hand contemplating what it was. Being in a serene environment with minimal distractions allowed me to deeply investigate things that I would ignore or take for granted in my normal life. With my awareness it seems like I could experience my hand on a cellular level. Instead of a solid object it felt like a spacious floating mass of small particles. After focusing on my hand, I might focus on feeling my spleen, liver, or some other inner part of my physical body. If you ignore the fact that they make you look insane, practices like these have many benefits.
What other every-day amazing things do we take for granted? The digestion process, breathing, a piece of grass on the side of the road, a flavor, a smell. Done with great attention and awareness, each of these can become a peak experience of insight and ecstasy.